Monthly Archives: May 2009

Caural – Mirrors For Eyes

Caural is the artist name of Chicago native, multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Zachary Mastoon.  This is his latest, and most fully fleshed out full length release.

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Mirrors for Eyes is deeply saturated in hazy tones and heady, soulful beats.  Spinning this is like dropping down a mental slide through treated drums, live guitar, organic synth lines; the slightly fragile production feels held together by the grooves of an ancient (but well preserved) vinyl from a connoisseur’s original Blue Note collection.  Managing this fine balancing act is what makes the record so astounding: projecting a thoroughly modern and forward-leaning style while retaining the crackling edge of some classically forgotten gem – one recently unearthed from a hermetically sealed time capsule.  Mixing fully instrumental and vocal tracks (some rapped, some sung) with a casual ease, this LP will eat 50 minutes and ask for more, stealthily working it’s way under the skin until the ghostly tones emerge in dreams and every paused, reflective moment throughout the day.  The draw is narcotic and can relentlessly stick for weeks.  Give it a spin; there’s no fear of addiction when the product’s this pure.  For instant convincing, spin Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose and quickly find yourself hitting restart to get the whole picture.

[grab this at boomkat or cd universe, or the reliable standby amazon]

Air France

With only a handful of released tracks totalling over 30 minutes, Air France have become the favorite new artist many forward-thinking and fun loving music fans.  Swathed in sun drenched woozy atmospheres and grounded with a fundamental understanding of beat centered propulsion, this enigmatic duo has managed to become both the hottest ticket from Gothenburg and the leading light in a balearic trance pop revival stretching around the globe.  This is the pair of unfathomably striking EPs with which the group has garnered so much attention.

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First we have No Way Down.  Released in the summer of 2008 with little fanfare, it was luckily picked up on pitchfork‘s radar and received a glowing review, now echoed in hundreds of like minded gushing writeups.  This is dangeously addictive electronic love-sound nirvana.  Cutting through multilayered samples with the ease of Avalanches, they’ve also got an ear for pop hooks that would make other recent (and excellent) Swedish exports blush.  There’s not a second wasted among the six equally brilliant tracks.  Forced to pick a standout, Collapsing At Your Doorstep would fit the bill for it’s dreamlike sampled refrain, “sort of like a dream. no – better” flitting over weeping romantic strings and a beach party conga line of percussion.  Truthfully, the entire record is required listening.

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Speaking of beach parties, here is the first release, On Trade Winds, dropped in 2007.  Beach Party is practically the group’s manifesto, the snowball which has since grown into an avalanche of attention.  Too many people have listened to and loved the new EP yet remain ignorant of the burgeoning genius on display with these four tracks.  Honestly, it should have gone first but recognition beats propriety.  Flip these tunes on, line up the second record, and take the whole 36 minutes and 7 seconds in one hit.  It’s as simple as that.  Words, however eloquent, aren’t equipped to convey the blast of fresh air and heartpounding excitement this music evokes.  Once it’s over you’re nearly guaranteed a repeat play.  The only problem arises when the craving for more sets in.  Hopefully Air France can keep the momentum and swing for the fences again with a new release in the near future.  Is a full LP too much to ask?

[available separately as Swedish imports, and download-only from various outlets including klicktrack.  Best option is the UK edition at Amazon which contains both EPs for the relatively low price of $17.49 us - an option I wish were available when I discovered them]

Dusty Kid – A Raver’s Diary

Here we have a truly mind warping, expansive, and impulsively danceable new album from Dusty Kid.  It’s a headlong rush into ballsy beats and trance-inducing atmospheres seemingly forgotten since the heyday of Underworld or Chemical Brothers.  There is a reason, after all, the album is titled A Raver’s Diary.

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The record starts things off on a minimal tack, with the first song’s title broadly (but reductively) indicative of the forthcoming beats –  Here Comes The Techno.   The course is seemingly set for some ambient house, minimal techno, essentially Kompakt-esque left-of-the-dial approach.  That notion is neatly sliced apart via Lynchesque, an off-kilter wobble of pulsing dub beats and stratospheric key tones.  Tension and surprising depth are revealed as layers are peeled away, then rebuilt with pinpoint accuracy, paving the way toward the rest of the album’s skyward trajectory.

Soaring above cumulonimbus clouds on the quarter-hour behemoth America, the rocketship momentum blasts through affecting surges of echoed guitar tones and romantic organ swells, the distinct feeling of a heart growing four times it’s size.  Feeling like a series of towering waves crashing against eardrums, every buildup and breakdown reveals richer textures and an evolving structure.  The low-end grows deeper, organs are interrupted by staccato-pulse synths, strings and woodwind gusts wash over the dubby guitar line… and it all recedes into a gentle lull you may have seen coming for miles, but were hoping would happen anyway.  It’s instantly rebuilt, vertically, with an intense picked guitar solo as the spine every element wraps seamlessly around.  Anyone with a heartbeat would want to repeat the track at once; Dusty Kid never allows the opportunity to arise.  Agaphes grabs the torch running full speed and jumps through multiple doorways, burning toward the terminal end of this habit-forming beat odyssey.

After that, it’s okay to hit Play again.  In fact, it’s recommended.  The perspective is essential for grasping the journey this album takes.  He drops the listener straight into a party comprised of the tangible accumulated knowledge of travellers who journeyed to learn what partying meant.  Which is to say.. nothing more, nothing less, than the thrill of the rhythm.  Have fun.

[get your hands on this at boomkat or check out amazon - if so, make sure to utilize the customer review function to negate the ridiculous shipping-related score of 1 star (by a fellow who obviously doesn't know what 'review' means)]

Lemon Jelly – Lost Horizons

Lemon Jelly are a mysterious instrumental duo who create sunny aural landscapes of undulating beats and warm synth swells, homespun string samples and comfortably worn woodwind accents.  It’s an enigmatic yet inviting soundscape, enveloping and indulging the listener – a place to live, cocooned in gentle bliss.  In this sense they could be considered, in a reductive way, as a Boards of Canada sibling who woke up on the right side of the bed.

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Downtempo post-trip hop is often looked upon with condescending eyes, and for good reason.  Beginning with the striking, exotic feel of early stalwarts Air, Thievery Corporation, and even Zero 7, most notable acts gentrified into a nearly adult-contempo vibe.  The lowest common denominators of this sound are what I would consider “Starbucks music” – wallpaper to soothe yuppies as they drink overpriced milkshakes over a laptop.  It’s only to the music connoisseur’s detriment that this fact obscures numerous incredible acts, leaving us out in the cold, unaware of the innovative treasures obscured behind the prominent bland façade of upwardly mobile coffeehouse bands.

Well enough with the negative.  Time for positive:  This is an uplifting album, as enthusiastic in its aim to please as a new puppy.  There’s nothing abrasive or truly strange jutting out of the copacetic mix, no jarring transitions or moments where the proverbial rug is pulled from under the listener.  What it lacks in moments of surprise it more than compensates with waves of agape-tinged, playfully melodic tones from the first track onward.  It’s a dreamy world of laid-back grooves ensconced in cozy atmospheres.  It’s an album-length getaway to the summertime destination of your choice, ready any time you are.

[cop this groovy masterpiece at cd universe (and check out their classy list of semi-related albums) or place an order at the always reliable amazon.  or try to find the vinyl, as the artwork is widely considered gorgeous]

Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein

2001: a Hip Hop OdysseyCannibal Ox dropped one of the greatest albums in recent history and then promptly vanished.  It’s possible the group was simply too incredible to exist; the universe self-corrected, erasing the extraordinary anomaly.  It’s a bit of a shame, but we have no place to complain when we’re blessed with this singular document of gravitationally scaled hip hop ferocity.

The Cold Vein is that rarest of creatures: an album that scales incredible heights both lyrically and instrumentally, stimulating all musical pleasure centers at once.  Vocal interplay between Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is a perfect dance between partners with different strengths, complimenting each others’ style every step of the way.  Throughout the record, they’re wrestling for control of the shambling, electro-crunch futuristic monster that is El-P‘s monumental production.  This lumbering beast rears its multifaceted head into the atmosphere via the first track’s sci-fi laser synthesizers and keeps pushing through uncharted territory with every minute consumed.  Feeling at times crunchy and nasty as the deepest early RZA work, a la Liquid Swords, the record’s more of a Transformer, flipping expectations and subverting comfort.  The surfaces constantly shift below Vast & Vordul’s feet, erupting in action-funk horn blasts, spacey organ bursts, complex breakdowns where the whole spectacle threatens to break loose and fly apart..  then it’s reigned in by these dueling aural lion tamers.  Combining cutting insight with surrealist connective tissue, the vocals flaunt every previously held rap paradigm.

Cutting through near-scatalogical Kool Keith-tinted non sequitors, and the dystopian settings of Deltron 3030 (or Can Ox forebears Company Flow), are the surprisingly confessional moments embedded throughout – showcased in particular by the psychological turmoil of The F-Word and Stress Rap.  The one lyrical preoccupation easily indentified is the emphasis on power, ambition, loss, survival, and pre-apocalyptic tension.  While not original in any conventional sense, it’s the way these themes are spun through nerd-genre sensibilities that lends weight and intrinsic appeal.  Like the best comic book and science fiction flicks, all the fireworks and metaphysical effects are merely tools aiding in the comprehension of universal truth and personal revelation.

I ain’t dealin with no minimum wage, I’d rather construct rhymes on a minimal page.”  This album is for dreamers and thinkers, unsatisfied with the state of the world, angry about the mechanations of politics and culture, the stifling of creativity, the snuffed out aspirations.  It’s fuel for those striving, hoping, and fighting for a better place – even if it’s mental space.  Real Earth follows, after all.

[get your hands on this at CD Universe, with their list of relevant & worthy albums, or amazon of course]

Underworld – Second Toughest in the Infants

Underworld could have laid claim, at a certain point in time, of being the greatest band in the world.  Of course, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are modest Brits and known to loathe any self-aggrandizing boasts;  the music speaks for itself, on record or in person.  They truly bloom in a live environment, as a matter of fact.  Where most of their peers are revealed, like the Wizard of Oz, to be little more than men with smoke and mirrors, Underworld unleash a godlike stadium-sized audio invasion.  Of course, I’m here to share an album, not experience.  So from here we go crazycrazycrazycrazycrazycrazycrazy….

Second Toughest in the Infants is an unflinching bravura masterwork.  At the time of its 1996 release, Underworld were on a rocket trajectory to the heights of acclaim and airplay.  The single Born Slippy (nuxx) from Trainspotting was a breakaway success, their unique breed of progressive electronica was becoming nigh-fashionable, and dance/rave culture itself was reaching a sort of fountainhead.  But instead of capitalizing on their flirtation with Top 40 radio, the band dug deep into the studio and returned with their most heady, experimental concoction to date.

Beginning with the kraut-trance triptych of Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love, a 16 minute roller coaster ride through every permuation they were known for at the time, Hyde and Smith go straight for the jugular.  This record bleeds hubris – with the talent and ingenuity to back it up all the way.  Track two (Banstyle/Sappys Curry) starts gently, the lightly pulsing keys and wispy breakbeats giving listeners a moment for catching breath, before Reilly-ian guitars announce blast-off into a dubbed out night flight over some futuristic aural cityscape.  It’s the kind of sound I imagine echoing up from the streets in mildly dystopian worlds from a cyberpunk novel.  Not content to simply coast on this deeply compelling groove, the song evolves once more into a synth-frenzied monster – ass quaking big beats and skittering high-hat christen the transformation.  The best part is, we’re not halfway through the album yet.

Soaring through moody vocal-inflected dub exploration, minimal techno pulse, post-punk guitar ambiance and some of the most lush production work of the entire decade, the album aggressively works to satisfy throughout its extended running time of 73 minutes.  Successfully.  Containing one of their most indelible and well-known dance anthems, Second Toughest isn’t content being merely a headphone sojourn or audiophile’s benchmark.  Pearls Girl is the kinetic gauntlet thrown down in the face of all would-be imitators, an epic banger transcending its time and place of origin, still heard ringing out of clubs and festivals alike over a decade hence.  Aggressive, heavily distorted stream-of-consciousness vocals trading in elements, colors, cultures, conflict, and insanity blow through the stormy mixture of yawning organ ambience, skull-pounding percussion work, and unpredictable structure breakdowns.  A relentless pace keeps bodies moving while the mind is lost in the black hole of the eternal refrain, crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy.  It may not sound like your cup of tea on paper, but that’s a far cry from the internal frenzy provoked every time this track bursts from a stereo.

As if a landmark recording from one of my favorite artists of all time isn’t enough, I’ve kindly shared the bonus disc, included with a limited edition of the album years ago.  Here’s the clincher:  it contains not only the towering Born Slippy (nuxx) single (beyond description – the favorite dance track of millions), but the incandescent Rez – a longtime staple of Underworld‘s live oeuvre otherwise unavailable on any major album release.  So that basically makes this the essential companion for anyone interested in one of the greatest electronic bands of all time.

[with it's impressionistic cover art and mindblowingly intricate production, the physical cd is a more than worthy purchase at amazon or your local record shop.  one glance and you'll need to open it up.]

Bombay the Hard Way

Kalyanji Anandji is the name of an Indian composer duo known for their work on Bollywood film soundtracks, particularly action potboilers in the 1970s.  One glance at the cover artwork for this LP should be enough to give any music or film lover a head start on these sounds.

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In 1998, Dan the Automator collaborated with DJ Shadow to remix, re-title, and reintroduce this action packed eastern funk to a near-clueless western audience.  Floating from jazzy windups to frenzied spy-flick jams, it’s a slick and concise rendering of a very specific intersection of geography and time.  Imagine the best aspects of the greatest hollywood funk scores (Superfly, Coffy, Shaft, etc) reinterpreted by bollywood composers, and processed though a modern hip hop sensibility.  Or just throw this record on and get heads nodding.

[you can grab this used via amazon]

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[Credit to last.fm for info on Kalyanji & Anandji Shah and especially to beatfanatic for introducing me to this album in the first place.]

Steve Reich – Drumming

Steve Reich may be most well known for his groundbreaking juggernaut Music For 18 Musicians; it’s truly unfortunate when most listeners don’t reach beyond that obvious landmark.  Written nearly a decade prior, this piece is one of the most unified, thorough explorations of a concept in the renowned composer’s towering oeuvre.

Drumming is an unequivocal masterpiece of singularly blinding focus.  The title and cover art alone convey more about this landmark than any copious wordplay could aspire toward.  It’s equivalent to Reich’s artistic kernel, a core sample taken from the root of his genius.  The ideas contained herein were expanded and mutated into everything composed in the intervening years.  This is the skeleton, the blueprint, the foundation.

Of course, it’s also a hypnotic masterpiece, a fully realized evocation of everything interesting about modern minimalism.  The drum patterns evolve so quickly and naturally that when layers begin dissipating near the final movement in a slow decrescendo of complexity, the feeling is akin to being woken gently out of a deep slumber:  peeling back comfortingly warm layers of blankets until the cool air sparks movement and consciousness.  Emerging upon the final moments, the most immediate, compelling notion is to hit snooze and resume the dream, from the beginning.  Drumming is a state one leaves reluctantly and with hesitation.

Thankfully, we need not wait until twilight to re-experience this particular dream.

[various releases exist, though check amazon for the version I've described, or cd universe where it's a bit cheaper]

Dr. Who Dat? – Beyond 2morrow

Excitingly innovative instrumental hip hop artist Dr. Who Dat? released Beyond 2morrow at the dawn of 2009.  Yet nearly halfway through the year, there has been little in the way of challenge to this record’s supremacy in it’s natural habitat – repeated listens only reveal the grooves as deeper, the beats more layered, the compositions as wildly accomplished.

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Change.  Change.  Change.  Chaaaaaaaang.

Jump straight in and prepare to crack a smile as opener Lurk clears the path to a much jazzier, more soulful affair than the genre has been known for lately.  Every aspect, from the vocals to the chunky bass lines to the classy woodwind samples and early-electronica organ tones absolutely bleeds feeling and spirit.

[grab this at boomkat, or in digital format at amazon]

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